Practitioners engage in both formal and informal assessment as learners progress along the learning continuum. Much informal assessment occurs during a class or group session when practitioners ask questions of individual learners attempting a learning activity and when they engage the group in discussion or ask them to perform an action, for example retrieve a file or throw a ball.
Practitioners undertake informal assessments to understand how well the learner is progressing towards achieving the learning intentions and success criteria, and the assessment is often tailored to the individual learner. These formative assessments provide the practitioner with evidence of the learner’s progress and concepts, knowledge and skills not yet understood. The practitioner uses this evidence to adjust the learning program to meet the learner’s needs.
Formative assessments may be conducted in a more formal manner. Formal assessments are often written tasks that require the learner to respond in a particular way, for example to write an essay, perform a dance, or create a movie. The response will be assessed according to a rubric or marking scheme developed against the success criteria.
A common type of formal assessment is the written test. Writing effective written tests is a whole topic in itself and advice about these will be provided in the coming months. Tests are usually timed assessments and may comprise multiple choice, short answer, and extended answer questions sometimes in response to case studies or scenarios. The practitioner selects particular types of tests and questions depending on the purpose of the assessment, the depth of response required and how quickly they wish to give feedback. Multiple choice tests can be marked quickly and feedback given almost immediately but tests requiring extended responses take longer to mark and the feedback will be slower in reaching the learners.
Summative assessments are often developed as formal assessment tasks that provide evidence of the learner’s mastery of knowledge, skills and understandings at a point in time. They measure what the learner has achieved against the achievement standards. The practitioner may use summative assessments for reporting to the learner and their parents about the learner’s achievement.
Whilst a summative assessment provides evidence of a learner’s achievement at a point in time, it can also be regarded as formative assessment since the evidence indicates what a learner has mastered and what knowledge, skills and understandings they still need to learn. As summative assessment usually occurs at the end of a learning program, unit or semester, the evidence can be provided to the next practitioner to work with the learner so that they will understand where the learner is on the learning continuum. They can then plan a more appropriate learning program.